Melting Pot?

Culturally diverse gifted learners are traditionally underrepresented in gifted education programming. Platte Grainger is a young student being considered for eligibility for gifted education services. However, his identification profile presents concerns to many of the members of the school eligibility committee. The case focuses on the unique nature and needs of culturally diverse students and the impact of ethnicity, race, and limited English proficiency on educational programming. Not all educators welcome a more diverse gifted program.

At an eligibility meeting for gifted education services, the committee reviews the profile for Platte Grainger, a minority student with limited English proficiency.

In the Oakley City School District, individual schools select an eligibility committee to review nominations for gifted education services. The committee is composed of the gifted education teacher, a building administrator, the district’s gifted coordinator, and two classroom teachers and/or specialists from the school. The elementary students in the district are served by a traditional pull-out program. Identified students in grades 1 through 5 leave their classrooms on a weekly basis for half a day to work with the gifted education resource teacher. Student eligibility begins at the end of kindergarten.

Today, Pineview Elementary School’s eligibility committee is conducting its quarterly meeting. The committee has reviewed eight student profiles thus far, and has decided that three students’ files meet the criteria for gifted education services. The committee’s decisions have been unanimous.

See a description of Pineview Elementary School below:

The gifted education teacher, Susan Walker, chairs the eligibility committee meeting. She presents the next profile. “The next student for consideration is a seven-year-old named Platte Grainger. I’d like each of you to review Platte’s assessment profile.”

See Platte’s assessment profile below:

Susan Walker continues, “Remember that we generally look for a composite score of around the 95th percentile for achievement and a Full Scale IQ score of about 130, or the 95th percentile, for general intellectual ability. We typically identify specific academic ability with achievement subtest scores at about the 95th percentile and a Full Scale IQ score of at least 120. Is there other information that anyone would like to add to the standardized test data?”

Platte’s first-grade teacher speaks, “Platte is sometimes slow to answer a question or suggest an idea, but I think that’s because of his language barrier. When he does answer, his insight and level of understanding seem beyond his years, if you know what I mean. His work in math class is exemplary. He may need more time in reading and writing, but his work is creative and thoughtful. His reading and writing just seem a little rough around the edges.”

The gifted education coordinator turns to the first-grade teacher and says, “You mentioned a language barrier, and I notice on the assessment profile that Platte’s native language is Spanish. Can you tell us more about his language proficiency?”

Mrs. Tanner, the school counselor, jumps into the conversation, saying she has insight into Platte’s family background and home environment. She proceeds, “The family consists of two grandparents, two parents, and a brother one year older than Platte. The family moved to this country just two years ago. Spanish is spoken at home, except for the occasional English between Platte and his brother. Because our ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) services were limited when the family first moved here, Platte was placed in a regular classroom. Platte picked up English from other students during kindergarten. Both of his parents dropped out of high school, but they are committed to providing a good education for their children; that is why they moved here. Platte’s father is a shift worker at the new meat packing plant outside of town, and his mother is a homemaker. They live in a three-bedroom apartment.”

Members of the eligibility committee have mixed reactions to Platte’s profile and eligibility.

The eligibility committee continues to discuss Platte’s assessment profile. It is evident that many different issues affect committee members’ decision-making. Diverse points of view also become obvious. The eligibility committee meeting turns into an enlightening discussion about bilingual gifted learners.

Video of Eligibility Committee Discussion of Platte’s Assessment Profile:

The ESOL and gifted education teachers present their views on gifted education.

Discouraged by the discussion thus far, the gifted education resource teacher tries to redirect the discussion to Platte’s profile. She asks the ESOL teacher to join the meeting and talk a little about bilingualism and giftedness.

Mrs. Brown has worked with Platte and feels comfortable discussing his ability. In fact, she is the individual who recommended his screening for gifted education services. She begins, “Even though society is made up of many diverse cultures, a dominant culture controls all social institutions, including schooling. To function in society, most of its minorities must face the decision to assimilate into the main culture. This often means that culturally diverse gifted learners have to work twice as hard to succeed. Using ‘traditional’ standards and methods for assessing ability, for example, penalizes children with limited English proficiency. Best practice dictates that we accept and nurture the differences in students from diverse cultures.”

The gifted education coordinator adds, “The purpose of gifted education programming is to help culturally diverse gifted learners achieve their full potential. Culturally diverse gifted learners often have different value systems, behavioral patterns, and academic preparation. They also may have different first languages from other gifted learners in traditional gifted education programs. ”

See definitions dealing with cultural diversity below:

Jim, the building administrator, lets out a sigh and shrugs his shoulders. “I want to remind all of you that we are here to identify students who clearly and fairly demonstrate giftedness…not to change gifted education in this district. I know we all have very busy schedules, so I suggest we refocus ourselves on the task at hand. We must get back to what we’ve been charged to do: identify gifted learners at our school.”

As the meeting progresses, the gifted education resource teacher makes one final attempt to convince colleagues of Platte’s eligibility for gifted education services.

“I hate to bring this up,” says Platte’s teacher, “but I have to leave in 30 minutes to pick up my son and get him to a dentist appointment. I don’t want to rush things, but we still have three more profiles to review.” Although she is sympathetic to the gifted education resource teacher’s efforts to pursue Platte’s eligibility for services, the reality is he’s only one child among many being reviewed.

Neither the gifted education resource teacher nor the classroom teacher is comfortable disagreeing with Jim, the building administrator. The resource teacher hopes that Jim, like everyone else, is simply tired and pressed for time. She has noticed, however, that he seems particularly attentive to the wishes of parents of gifted students. She wonders if Jim might be worried about their reactions, or perhaps the reactions of parents of students deemed ineligible for gifted services.

Meanwhile, Jim again states his reluctance to consider Platte for gifted education services. “We really do this young man a disservice by placing him in the gifted program. If he’s different from the other students, he will feel out-of-place.”

“I have to agree with Jim. I don’t think Platte should be considered for services at this time,” adds the school psychologist. “Simply put, his scores are not up to par. I don’t believe that it is ‘common practice’ to use the subtest scores, therefore, I strongly urge you to consider the composite score as the ‘real’ representation of Platte’s ability. That being said, this child really does not present evidence of being gifted.”

The resource teacher looks to the gifted coordinator for help. Although the coordinator is supportive of the district gifted education program, she is hesitant to challenge site-based administrative decisions. She has learned that administrators must be brought on board gently, so to speak. Although she is disappointed in the initial review of Platte’s profile, she is hopeful that overtime she can make district-wide changes in how students are identified for gifted education services.

The gifted education resource teacher is frustrated and disappointed. What happened to thinking about students as unique individuals? Is it fair to Platte to treat him like everyone else? She wonders what she might say or do to persuade the committee that Platte is indeed gifted.